June 28, 2013

Two actions this week on the D.C. corruption front — the federal indictment of businessman Anthony C.Y. “Tony” Cheng Sr. and his son, Anthony R. Cheng Jr., and the guilty plea entered by former professional boxer Keely Thompson — are in the opening stages. These dramas will play out in the months to come.

The Cheng indictments could have occurred more than a year ago.

Federal prosecutors had much of what they needed to present to a grand jury in 2011 when Leon Swain, then-chairman of the D.C. Taxicab Commission, allegedly recorded Cheng Sr. giving him $1,500 in cash in exchange for help getting documents needed to obtain taxi licenses.

Cheng Sr. discussed more than his desire to get taxicab licenses, a person intimately acquainted with the recordings told me. Cheng, this person said, also talked about money he had given to certain D.C. elected officials — money that was not intended for political campaigns or constituent funds.

In one instance, my source reported, Cheng mentioned by name a high-ranking elected official who sought $35,000 in exchange for giving Cheng a piece of the D.C. Lottery business.

Cheng’s attorney, Ken Robinson, told me in an interview Thursday that his client and Swain did have “10 to 12” conversations “a couple of years ago” that were apparently secretly recorded by Swain. Robinson said that he has listened to the recordings and that he heard nothing suggesting his client offered a bribe to anyone.

Robinson said his client has never engaged in corrupt activities in the 40 years he has operated a business in the District. The only money that Cheng and his family have given to political figures, Robinson said, came via campaign contributions, all of which have been reported in accordance with the law.

As for the reported $35,000 bribery solicitation by a city official, Robinson said he heard no such thing on any recording. The government, Robinson said, wants Cheng and his son to provide incriminating information against Mayor Vincent Gray (D) and some members of the D.C. Council in a separate investigation. Cheng maintains he has no information to give prosecutors because all his dealings with city officials have been aboveboard, Robinson said.

The Chengs are expected to be arraigned in a few days. But the real action will get underway when — and if — their case goes to trial.

The Cheng indictments had been expected for months, as had Thompson’s plea agreement.

I wrote in May that Thompson was in talks with the office of U.S. Attorney Ron Machen that could lead to a plea deal [“The District’s legal eagles are staying busy,” op-ed, May 11].

Recall, authorities unveiled a 31-count indictment against Thompson and his wife, Bianca, in November for wire fraud in connection with the misuse of thousands of dollars in government and private grants.

As part of his bargaining, Thompson sought reduced charges for himself and all charges dropped against his wife. Machen gave Thompson both.

Now Thompson has to give Machen something. Word is Thompson will finger a D.C. elected official who reportedly has taken kickbacks for helping Thompson secure grants intended for his business, Keely’s District Boxing and Youth Center.

That, of course, would be a serious allegation — and one that Machen would not allow Thompson to make lightly.

The agreement Machen offered — which Thompson’s attorney, Troy Poole, acknowledged — contains this provision: “Your client understands that if he falsely implicates a person in the commission of a crime, or exaggerates the involvement of any person in the commission of a crime in order to appear to cooperate, or if he falsely minimizes the involvement of any person in the commission of a crime in order to protect that person, your client will be in violation of this agreement.”

In other words: There will be hell to pay if Thompson lies.

Now, consider this scenario: A kickback payment from a grant recipient in the amount of several thousand dollars is delivered to a D.C. elected official by two acquaintances of the grantee. The elected official, however, refuses to accept the delivery. So the grantee personally delivers the payment to the elected official — and has arranged for the transaction to be secretly witnessed by two friends.

That’s hypothetical. Maybe. But sometimes you can’t make this stuff up.

Asked for comment on the Cheng indictments and Thompson’s plea agreement, spokesman William Miller said: “Because both matters remain pending, the U.S. Attorney’s Office has no comment.”

Dear reader, don’t go far.

Read more from Colbert King’s archive.